The Curator #16

We have discussed through various examples, how curator weaves a narrative through objects and artworks in an exhibition. These narratives offered a larger picture about our history and heritage instead of only limiting the exhibition to the artworks and artists. We have seen examples of curators such as Naman P. Ahuja, Ranjit Hoskote, and through the exhibition ‘Where in the World’ how interesting narratives about our present and past can be told through artworks. The Sanskrit word for narrative is Aakhyan. It also means story-telling. India has myriads of story-telling traditions. These traditions are part of a living tradition which means it is continuing for centuries and one can trace it back to history. These practitioners use interesting objects such as scrolls, puppets, masks, etc., to tell these stories. For example, the patuas of Bengal carry illustrated scrolls to tell stories, scrolls from Gujarat portray Jaina myths and the Rajasthan depicts the story of Pabuji and Dev Narayan. Besides these long scrolls from Tamil Nadu and Andhra called yama patas are used to talk about the journey to hell and heaven.  Besides scrolls, masks and puppets are also used in this purpose. Performance traditions across India uses masks. Many of us know about performances like Krishnanattam, Kathakali, Chau, Ramlila, Aji Lhamu, Chham, etc., which uses mask as an important element. These masks are made of different materials. Also important is the use of puppets in performance. Shadow puppetry is a popular performance item in many parts of India including Odisha, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Let us see how can one weave a narrative about narratives and curate a show based on this tradition and the various objects used. In today’s Art1st’s “The Curator” series we introduce you to the exhibition Aakhyan: A Celebration of Masks, Puppets and Picture Showmen Traditions of India curated by Jyotindra Jain and Dadi Pudumjee for IGNCA.

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The Curator #16

Exhibition: Aakhyan: A Celebration of Masks, Puppets and Picture Showmen Traditions of India, 2010

Curators: Jyotindra Jain and Dadi Pudumjee

Venue : IGNCA

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 I have introduced you to seminal art historian Dr. Jyotindra Jain, today I will also introduce you to Dadi Pudumjee who is a leading puppeteer from India and also the founder of The Ishara Puppet Theatre Trust.

Pudumjee also holds a significant collection of masks from different parts of India. Even if you are not familiar with Pudumjee you must be familiar with his masks. You don’t believe me right? I am sure most of you have seen this song from the movie Haider.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVDeDObxbM8

The masks and puppets used in this song are from Dadi Pudumjee’s collection. Dudumjee’s performances and shows have travelled nationally and internationally.

 

Aakhyan, the exhibition was the celebration of masks, puppets and picture showmen tradition of India. According to IGNCA “Aakhyan brings together three distinct traditions of masks, puppets and picture scrolls of India, focusing on the artistic expressions in the visual and kinetic narratives. At the core of the ever- fascinating multiplicity of Indian storytelling lie the epic worlds of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Puranas.” Furthermore, “The art forms chosen for this event, in their diverse manifestations, represent the larger picture of the cultural landscape of India denoting rituals, epics, legends and ballads, and contemporary narratives. Masks, Puppets and Picture Showmen are living traditions in many parts of the country with a formidable variety of vibrant expressions. By bringing these together, IGNCA is making an effort not only to showcase the rich diversity of masks, puppets and picture scrolls in the larger matrix of storytelling traditions in India but also to project the artistic significance of each form.”

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According to Dadi Pudumjee, “Akhyan attempts to present some of these living traditions of storytelling not just as museum pieces, but as a portrayal of the rich cultural performing arts and crafts of India — the exquisitely carved wood, costumes, jewellery, painting and the techniques of manipulation & presentation which have survived many centuries — highlighting the Indian tradition, where the object is given life and projects its creator’s ideas and essence, through narration of stories of gods and demons, heroes and common people, of love and affection, and beyond.”

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In the wonderfully illustrated catalogue produced by IGNCA, Dr. Jain gives a historical account of the story-telling tradition and picture-showmen tradition in India. By picture-showmen we mean performers who carry images to narrate stories. Using references from classical textual sources, he gives a detailed account of this tradition from different parts of India. It is a must-read essay on the picture-showmen tradition of India. He observes that, “Indian traditions of storytelling, often accompanied by painted panels or scrolls, can be traced back through literary evidence to at least the second century BC and are known to have existed almost all over the subcontinent. Buddhist, Brahmanical, and Jaina literature contains abundant references to the art of painted scrolls (pata chitras) which were exhibited in ancient times to educate and entertain the people. Classical Sanskrit literature has several references to yama patas.”

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This show also used pictures and masks which were related to the contemporary adaptations of these. For example, the picture scroll from Medinipur on Indira Gandhi murder. ‘The mid-20 century scroll titled “After Independence” depicts, with a tinge of sarcasm, the family tensions, social conflicts and agony that arose from the breakdown of existing moral values and economic structures, the effect of modernization around the time of India’s independence.’

This exhibition had also accompanied by various performances.

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You could download the catalogue from here and see the images and read the essays. http://ignca.nic.in/PDF_data/aakhyan_brochure.pdf

Have a wonderful weekend. Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and discuss.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.

 

 

 

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The Curator #12

Through the various previous blog posts we got an idea about how does curating India abroad, how curating abroad in India functions. But what about exhibitions which feature artists from different nationalities to address certain universal political and social crisis. How would the curator address this diversity of the artist and strategically situate the artworks in the purview of his curatorial objectives. Would a foreign artist be able to understand the concerns of a different country? This is one of the most contested questions in contemporary art. Also, how do artists from different nationalities collaborate on a common concern is a perplexing question. All we can do is to attempt and see. The route map of this journey, the interactions between the curators and the artists are the important milestones which remain even after the exhibition is over.

Another important issue I would like to address today is how do we see our times. How can a curatorial exercise reflect our times. I do not disagree that we all see the world through our own vantage points. But there are certain truths which one cannot surpass are merely subjective. The political and economic crisis of our times is a reality. Not a fiction scripted to distract us form our valuable existence. Art or artists are not away form these issues and questions. Therefore one has to address them. Since art, curation, writing, etc., are the medium in which we work, we will address the crisis through this medium. In today’s issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” we will look at “A Preview to Desolation” curated by me at the Italian Cultural Center. The exhibition, a group show featuring eight Indian and Italian artists, imagined the contemporary as a desolate landscape, a terrain stripped of hope and peace. Quests for justice, equality and asylum have become more important than ever, but these struggles are always met with dismissal and brutal crackdown. Eight artists have responded to this topic, which is of utmost importance, through their works.

Exhibition: A Preview to Desolation

Curator : Premjish Achari

Venue: Italian Embassy Cultural Center

Artists: Atul Bhalla | Beatrice Pediconi | Gigi Scaria | Giuseppe Stampone Maura Biava | Sharmila Samant | Tushar Joag | Varunika Saraf

One of the major concerns of this exhibition was to address the apathy and indifference which has engulfed people in our times. We see incidents of violence, inequality, injustice but fail to respond to them. When there should be a collective demand for justice, equality, asylum, and human rights, instead all we see around us is a brutal crackdown on the marginalized and the oppressed. Because of this, the lives of the dispossessed has become even more precarious. The refugee crisis, the rise of  right wing ideologies is destroying co-existence and plurality in our society. The state aided violence by the fringe elements in many countries has become a serious concern. The main objective of this exhibition is to address this crisis through art. Therefore I had included artworks which confront and respond to this situation. The aesthetic concerns of these artworks address the fundamental instability caused by the ‘bad new days’, a phrase used by Brecht to denote these times of crisis.

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Atul Bhalla_Fictitious Landscape I_Courtesy_Vadehra Art Gallery & Atul Bhalla

This exhibition is premised on a concern about the violence, apathy, and brutality of the “bad new days”. These oppressions are real but on the other hand we ignore them and celebrate a different vision of life which exclusionary in nature. So I imagined our times or the contemporary as a landscape, a terrain of desolation stripped of any hope and beauty which could keep us going. The urge to control people, especially minorities, by branding them as “aliens” is increasing day by day. Furthermore, the larger global economic crisis and the economy of war and invasion have left thousands dead and much more homeless.  Through the artworks and the exhibition, in general, I attempted to draw the attention of the viewer to this crisis.

It was definitely a challenge to get artists who also think similarly and are sensitive to these issues. It needs political sensitivity to ally with these concerns. Artists included in this show were constantly working to make the artwork more active and participatory, in terms of their involvement in the material processes behind the creation of an artwork and an exhibition. I was fortunate to have found such a wonderful group of artists from Italy and India who responded to this exhibition through their brilliant works.

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Beatrice Pediconi Alien D_Courtesy sepiaEYE, New York

This exhibition uses ‘precarious’ as a conceptual category to understand the cataclysmic contemporary climate; through this it attempts to survey the vastness of this desolation and disarray. It enables us to plot the coordinates of crisis and the political conditions generated by conflicts for power.

Through this exhibition I attempt to show works which confront and respond to this situation. Its aesthetic concerns remain to address the fundamental instability caused by these ‘bad new days’. How a precarious regime of aesthetics is developing, based on speed, intermittence, blurring and fragility. It reasserts the necessity to locate the ideological foundations of Fascism and its aesthetic sensibilities, which are rooted in passive consumption. It allows this by activating and politicising art to protect the present and future from becoming a part of its political project.

 

Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

Sharmila Samant_The Wasteland_Courtesy_Govett Brewster Art Gallery, Plymouth_Aoteoroa NZ

 

“Bad new days” is an apt way to describe the times we inhabit. In the last few decades, unprecedented economic, political and social turbulence have resulted in a climate rife with insecurity and precarity. An undeclared state of emergency has displaced millions of citizens across the world, creating unjust socio-economic disparities. This has given rise to an atmosphere of intolerance, which thwarts any form of debate, engagement and dissent, virtues associated with a democratic society. Historic amnesia is favoured over historic memory. The human condition has become fragile; it is more insecure, fragmented, and susceptible to injustice and oppression. Our very existence has become precarious.

Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

Gigi Scaria_City unclaimed_Digital print on canvas_2017

A video feature of this exhibition was done by NDTV-Mojarto which can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wrv4VTILJog

Here are some of this exhibition views.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st
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Varunika Saraf, Citizen Z

 

 

The Curator #10

The Curator #10

Most of the curators whom we have discussed in this series, except Naman P. Ahuja, had in a way represented Indian art in India. It would be too simple to call them as Indian art because their approaches were thematically diverse, concerns were different, the choice of artworks, artists and spaces were also individually motivated. In the exhibition “Body in Indian Art” we saw the two possibilities of an exhibition representing Indian art abroad and Indian art in India. The act of representing India is a nationalistic act. It means that you put together artworks of artists from different linguistic, ethnic, geographical groups under the category of nation. How does it function in the age of globalization especially during the beginning of this decade when the idea of nation-state has not strongly returned as it has returned now?  How do we define citizenship in this new context where people move freely, artists collaborate internationally, show their works across the world? How does a curator represent the cultural diversity in this context, still being placed in a homogenizing platform like national pavilion?

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We know that Venice Biennale, one of the oldest in the world, is a platform which actively encourages national pavilions. Countries try to send their best artists and curators to represent their art world. Though Indian artists have been represented in Venice Biennale in the past it was the first time in 2011, the 54th edition, that India got an official pavilion. Renowned curator, poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote was selected by Lalit Kala Akademi to curate the pavilion. Today in Art1st’s “The Curator” series we will discuss Ranjit Hoskote’s exhibition ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’curated for the Indian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

The Curator #10

Curator: Ranjit Hoskote

Title: ‘Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode…’

Venue: Venice Biennale, 2011.

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Ranjit Hoskote

 

According to Ranjit Hoskote, his objectives in curating this show was to, “mark a sharp rupture with these pre-existing notions of how India’s national art scene should be represented. Since I have long argued that contemporary Indian art is defined by multiple horizons of value, I wished to disclose artistic practices from locations other than those synonymous with the Indian art market: practices that transit among disparate economies of image production, traverse asymmetric cultural and political situations; that are nourished by diverse circulations of philosophical ideas; and that grow, often, from improvisational forms of research and collaboration.”

Hoskote’s focus was to draw attention to multiple locations from which value is created in the context of Indian art. Instead of giving importance to the aspect of nationality and fitting artists into the institution of nation-state, the curator emphasized on the idea of cultural citizenship. This was a significant shift from the idea of monolithic culture to a transcultural existence. It expanded the idea of what is India especially through the lens of migration and hybridity.

The four artists/ artist groups chosen to represent India in this pavilion were:

  1. Zarina Hashmi (print-maker and mixed-media artist; born in Aligarh, 1937; now lives and works in New York).
  1. Praneet Soi (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kolkata, 1971; now lives and works in Amsterdam and Kolkata).
  1. Gigi Scaria (painter, sculptor, video artist; born in Kothanalloor, Kerala, 1973; now lives in New Delhi).
  1. The Desire Machine Collective (Sonal Jain, born in Shillong in 1975, and Mriganka Madhukaillya, born in Guwahati in 1978; DMC is a media collective based in Guwahati, Assam, and works across film, installation and public space projects).
Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi's mural (L), Gigi Scaria's interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine.gif

Installation view of India Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011). Praneet Soi’s mural (L), Gigi Scaria’s interactive video installation (R), Desire Machine. Courtesy: Ranjit Hoskote

The exhibition was a ‘laboratory, stage and school’ for the curator to understand these developments. It became a site to map these important shifts post 90s in India. According to Hoskote, “Zarina Hashmi, Praneet Soi, Gigi Scaria, and the Desire Machine Collective act as compass points for an alternative atlas of references. An idiosyncratic line of latitude connects them across the globe, running west-east to link their theatres of life and work across New York, Amsterdam/Kolkata, New Delhi/Kerala, and Guwahati. To my mind, it was vital to honour the historic occasion of India’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennale by proposing such positions, which demonstrated the linkages between contemporary Indian art and global art at large, while retaining the distinctiveness of sensibilities engaged with the South Asian predicament.”

Gigi Scaria, 'Elevator from the Subcontinent (exterior view),' 2011. (Photograph curtsey of Domus Magazine website.) .jpg

Gigi Scaria’s Elevator from the Subcontinent, Courtesy: Domus

Through their works, Hoskote used the exhibition space as a laboratory to test the ‘idea of India’, a conceptual phrase developed by Sunil Khilnani. The artists developed their works to re-imagine what it means to belong to India. The title of the exhibition was taken from a a book by an anonymous group of theorists called The Invisible Committee which was shared by Mriganka Madhukaillya of the Desire Machine Collective. The opening of the book read: ‘Everyone agrees. It’s about to explode. It is acknowledged, with a serious and self-important look, in the corridors of the Assembly, just as yesterday it was repeated in the cafés… The newspapers conscientiously draw up the list of causes for the sudden disquiet. There is the financial crisis… the failure of the educational system… the existence of a youth to which no political representation corresponds… what power is confronting is neither just another crisis, nor just a succession of chronic problems, of more or less anticipated disturbances, but a singular peril: that a form of conflict has emerged, and positions have been taken up, that are no longer manageable.”

The pavilion was conceived not only to ask questions on what is nationality and on nation-state but also to enquire what is global art.

You can listen to Ranjit Hoskote talk about the exhibition in this link https://www.aaa.org.hk/en/resources/videos/everyone-agrees-its-about-to-explode-curatorial-reflections-on-the-india-pavilion-54th-venice-biennale-by-ranjit-hoskote

A video of Gigi Scaria’s installation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vasYjXFzlg

Please read, share and comment. Happy weekend!

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st.